self reflection

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Self-reflection describes the activity of thinking about yourself. This means analyzing and questioning your thoughts, feelings and actions with the aim of finding out more about yourself. We can not only question ourselves as an individual, but also as part of a system, for example as part of a family or a team.



The term self-reflection can be separated into self and reflection . Thus, these two terms should be considered in more detail.

What is the self?

Explaining the self is challenging due to the extensive literature alone - and the term must be viewed from an interdisciplinary perspective. The word is the cornerstone for a variety of psychological, philosophical and medical terms, such as self-concept , self-efficacy or self-knowledge . It is understood differently depending on the discipline. In psychology, the self is used as an umbrella term for all cognitive components that a person has of himself, for example: thoughts, expectations, perception and much more. You could say that it describes all information that a person already possesses, processes, collects and uses in connection with his own person.

We start collecting information for this knowledge as early as childhood. Our experience is the basis for this. Characteristics that we consciously include and that are expressed verbally ultimately form the “I” or the conscious self, while not all aspects of the self are conscious. This includes, for example, habits. In addition, the self can be distinguished even more widely. For example, a distinction is made between the ideal and real self (concept), i.e. the difference between the idea of ​​who you really are and the goal of who you would like to be.

What does reflection mean?

According to the dictionary, reflecting means “reflecting back” or “thinking”. Joy Amulya from MIT describes the process of reflection as an active participation process in one's own experiences. So it means consciously looking at your own actions and rethinking them. Other authors (Ruth-Sahd, 2003) emphasize that reflection is only triggered by certain events through which we experience loss or success. In general, a person can reflect in their thoughts before, during and, of course, after each situation.

The word “reflection” itself was increasingly raised and questioned by communication scientists and language philosophers (especially in the phase of post-analytic philosophy). Schnädelbach describes it as "the thinking of thinking" and "therefore the most important method concept of the new philosophy". In terms of communication theory, the term is mainly used in discourse and systems theories.


Self-reflection is a psychological phenomenon that should be viewed in an interdisciplinary manner. From a psychological perspective, self-reflection develops the ability to recognize various aspects of ourselves on a level of imagination. To put it more simply: We get premonitions in response to questions like: What do I think when I look in the mirror? Not only what we actually see in the mirror, but what we believe and think about ourselves. About our feelings, our skills, our work and our impact. What do I see when I take a selfie: Who is looking at me? What does it actually look like behind the filter, the external appearance? And: What defines me as a person, what characterizes my relationship with other people and vice versa?

From a biological point of view, on the other hand, self-reflection is the ability of humans to develop various neural patterns in the nervous system and to compare them with one another. In this way, considerations arise - and in a further step perhaps new paths and beliefs. Similar to physics, in this process I turn the light on myself and receive information about myself in the rearview.

Opposite it is so-called self-awareness, i.e. our intuitive self-reflection. We don't have to think hard and actively for this, but the process happens by itself. Social psychologists have been able to show, for example, that people are more honest when they are placed right next to a mirror. They were able to show how self-awareness affects us.


Self-reflection can be done in certain ways. The most common have been summarized below.

Oral self-reflection

We often reflect by having a self-dialogue. In addition, outsiders are often called in to reflect on certain incidents. One of the most common tools for self-reflection is what is known as storytelling . According to the research of Chris McKillop, storytelling is particularly suitable because more emphasis is placed on conveying subjective attitudes and events than reporting the neutral truth. In addition, professional actors such as psychotherapists and coaches are often integrated into the self-reflection process.

Written self-reflection

Likewise, this thoughtful or explicit confrontation with oneself can also be structured in writing. Gillie Bolton and Russell Delderfield summarize a variety of written methods in their book Reflective Practice . These include, for example:

  • Narrative methods
  • Working with metaphors
  • Journals
  • The Six Minute Write

There are also a number of written exercises for reflection.

Scientific knowledge

In science, too, several researchers, especially in English-speaking countries, have dealt with self-reflection. It should be noted that the research topic is still quite young and the first evidence can only be found after 1980. Below are some scientific studies and papers shared.

Historical framework

The research on reflection was scientifically founded by Donald Schön in 1983 with his book The reflective Practitioner . The concept has already been discussed by John Dewey , Kurt Lewin and Jean Piaget . Because all of these dealt with learning theories. Self-reflection is also classified as a learning experience. The focus is often on integrating theory and practice.

Single and double loop learning

This learning theory was set up by Argyris and Schön in 1978 to explain how people and organizations deal with mistakes and how they learn from them. For this purpose, two learning concepts have been set up, which are briefly explained below. In this case, the starting point for any learning experience is a poor result.

1. Single-loop learning

The basic assumption in single-loop learning is to start with the actions. This means that a person adapts their own behavior so that the new desired result is achieved.

2. Double-loop learning

In contrast, with double-loop learning, the person or organization focuses on the underlying rules and framework conditions. These are adjusted to improve processes.

Multidimensional model of reflective learning

This model was created by Patricia E. Blacka and David Plowright as a result of a study with pharmacy students to represent reflective learning. It is aimed at practice with the aim of self-development in the professional field. The data was collected with the help of focus groups and individual interviews, making it part of qualitative research . The model is based on the authors' definition of reflection, which postulates four dimensions of reflective learning:

  • the source
  • the target
  • the purpose
  • the realization

of reflection and learning.

The basic starting point of this model is that each dimension includes two elements: the practice of reflecting itself, as well as on what has been learned or the result of the process. The source is referred to as the learning experience. (e.g. one lesson for students). The target describes the experience or knowledge that the reflector is striving for. The purpose of self-reflection lies on the one hand in the acquisition of conceptual knowledge and in establishing regular practice. The last dimension of the authors describes the relaxation of reflection , i.e. the knowledge about the reflection, thus also thinking about the reflective learning. This is also written and oral, as this is like a self-dialogue. This dimension stands out because it is the basis for the transfer of the entire model in the process.

Process flow

In principle, there is no regulated process for self-reflection. Because, as already described, there can be a wide variety of motivations and circumstances to reflect on yourself. Nevertheless, there is a cycle from the DeSelfie platform , which is used in the following to outline an exemplary process.

Self-reflection circuit.png


People come into the cycle of self-reflection due to the most diverse starting positions. It serves as an aid for those who have problems starting self-reflection and integrating it into their everyday life. The prerequisite for this, however, is first of all the awareness that it could be a helpful process. The cycle represented by the DeSelfie platform is divided into 5 stages and outlines an exemplary process of how people begin to question themselves and what results this can lead to.

Awareness of the status quo

Often people begin to question themselves after negative events (e.g. new beginning, loss, separation, etc.). For example, they wonder how they got into this situation or why this is happening to them. In short, it creates awareness of a problem or a new situation we are in. But positive events such as a promotion or marriage can also trigger these processes. However, a specific event does not have to occur in order to reflect. Often it is enough to have a vague feeling that something is wrong.

Conscious perception

This is followed by the first important step: to focus our perception on how we are doing. The purpose of this is to recognize that a person bears responsibility for their own life and the problems associated with it. Again, this knowledge is necessary in order to be able to carry out the next steps. In this phase, methods of awareness training (e.g. mindfulness exercises ) can have a particularly supportive effect.

set goals

It is important to set a goal for yourself. What do you want to reflect on and what information do you want to find out about yourself? What the effort to deal with yourself for? Often the strength of the intrinsic motivation decides the success of the self-reflection process. For the next step, it is helpful to ask how the achievement of goals can be measured or what must be achieved so that the process can be described as successful.

Check concrete measures

This phase is used to test specific behaviors that were used to achieve the goal. The point is to consider the effectiveness and your own well-being in the respective situation and to compare it with the dream.

Integrate experience

Various behaviors were analyzed in the previous phase. It can thus be derived from this whether the new behavior should be maintained or, if necessary, adjusted. Simply put, it is about integrating the experiences made. It should then be asked again whether the goal has been achieved and how specifically the process will continue. There is the possibility of wanting to think more about a topic or perhaps also wanting to reflect on related topics that have been raised.


There are various approaches, questions, methods and techniques to discover, try out or train self-reflection for yourself. An extract from this is presented in the following points.

Helpful questions for self-reflection

Different questions can have a supportive effect for each phase of the cycle of self-reflection just presented. Before answering the questions, one should first familiarize oneself with the cycle and consider: Where am I at? It is helpful to work out these questions with the help of a partner.

Awareness of the status quo

  • What exactly happened?
  • What situation am I in?
  • Why does this situation inspire me to want to change something?

Conscious perception

  • What do i feel?
  • What exactly aroused this emotion in me?
  • What distinguishes me
  • To what extent do I myself contribute to success / satisfaction / success?
  • Do I have an idea what makes me happy and satisfied?
  • Do I do what corresponds to my strengths in my work? Or: Do I do in my free time what suits my inclinations?
  • What am I good at?
  • What are my characteristics?
  • Which of my strengths should others also perceive?
  • Where do I want to go with my strengths? Where not?

set goals

  • What are my values?
  • What do I want to strive for?
  • Which characteristics do I want to develop further in myself?
  • What should I do more of, what less of ... to ... to?
  • What wishes do I have for my life and what am I missing?
  • Suppose I could say in ten years: Everything was done right. How would I fix that?

Check concrete measures

  • Have I achieved my goals?
  • What am I satisfied with?
  • What can I still improve?
  • How do I determine the improvement?

Integrate experience

  • How can I integrate what I have learned in the future?
  • What do I want to take with me and what do I leave in the past?
  • What helped me
  • What circumstances do I have to pay attention to so that my behavior is successful?

Self Compassion Letter

This method has its origin in positive psychology and is primarily intended to support self-centered, negative feelings. It is therefore often used at the beginning of the cycle as part of self-reflection. Because, as mentioned at the beginning, negative events can initiate the cycle of self-reflection. But the process itself is also part of self-reflection, as the goal of this method is to strengthen self-awareness. The process is divided into 3 steps.


In this phase, parts of the self that are criticized by the viewer in their own person are identified. An exemplary situation could be when things don't go as planned and someone feels unsafe or not well enough as a result. It can be a specific situation or a part of the personality. Once a "subject" has been identified, the person writes down how they feel when confronted with that term.


Then the person writes a letter to themselves expressing compassion, understanding and acceptance for this situation and the parts of you that they do not like. In principle, you should avoid adopting a judgmental attitude in this phase. It can be helpful to imagine someone close to you who does not judge the viewer and to ask yourself the following questions

  • What would that person say about your problem or the part of you that seems inadequate to you?
  • What words would best express his / her deep compassion and show unconditional understanding?
  • How would he or she remind you that we as humans are not perfect?
  • How could he / she support you with suggestions or encouragement?


After the letter is written, it is put aside for a while. At a later point in time the letter will be brought out to calm and comfort himself with the help of his own words. The letter can be brought out at any time in similar situations or situations that trigger the same thing.

Self test (optional)

A questionnaire called the Self-Compassion Scale (SCS) can be used to check whether self-related compassion has increased . It is recommended that you test yourself beforehand and a month after you have written the letter to yourself.


Results of self-reflection can be, for example, self-knowledge or a more precise “self-awareness”. Our self-confidence is often fed from this . How exactly the reflector deals with the knowledge is often another question that people often ask themselves in this process. Basically, two results can be categorized.

1. Positive result

In the case of a positive assessment of their own attitude and experience, the reflector can concentrate on maintaining this behavior.

2. Negative result

If you come across negative results, or in other words: I don't like what I've experienced, I can ask myself what to do with these thoughts or feelings. Often an attempt is made to change the behavior and thus one enters the self-reflection cycle again in order to determine the effectiveness of the new behavior.


  • A. Dobmeier: Self-reflection. Retrieved from (February 25, 2019)
  • A. Dobmeier: About DeSelfie. Retrieved from (February 25, 2019)
  • Patricia E. Black, David Plowright: A multi-dimensional model of reflective learning for professional development. In: Reflective Practice. Volume 11, 2010, pp. 245-258. doi: 10.1080 / 14623941003665810
  • T. Rammsayer, H. Weber: Differential Psychology - Personality Theories. Hogrefe Verlag, Göttingen 2016.
  • E. Aronson, TD Wilson, RM Akert: Social Psychology. Pearson studies, Munich 2012.
  • J. McDrury, M. Alterio: Learning through storytelling in higher education: using reflection and experience to improve learning. Kogan Page, London 2003.
  • J. Amulya: What is reflective practice. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Reflective Community Practice, 2004 (February 25, 2019)
  • Chris McKillop: Storytelling grows up: Using storytelling as a reflective tool in higher education. 2005.
  • ME Neely, DL Schallert, SS Mohammed, RM Roberts, YJ Chen: Self-kindness when facing stress: The role of self-compassion, goal regulation, and support in college students' well-being. In: Motivation and Emotion. Volume 33, No. 1, 2009, pp. 88-97.
  • KD Neff: The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. In: Self and identity. Volume 2, No. 3, 2003, pp. 223-250.
  • LB Shapira, M. Mongrain: The benefits of self-compassion and optimism exercises for individuals vulnerable to depression. In: Journal of Positive Psychology. Volume 5, No. 5, 2010, pp. 377-389.
  • Reflective practice. (n. d.). Retrieved from

Individual evidence

  1. GILLIE BOLTON: READ TO LEARN! WRITE TO LEARN! Accessed April 28, 2019 .
  2. About DeSelfie. In: DeSelfie. Retrieved April 28, 2019 (German).
  3. Neff, 2003b; Hupfeld & Ruffieux, 2011.